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NGS releases modernized National Spatial Reference System updates

August 5, 2020  - By
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The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) recently announced two new items related to the modernized National Spatial Reference System (NSRS). First, it announced that there will be a delayed release of the modernized National Spatial Reference System (NSRS). See the box titled “Updates notices from NGS Homepage” for the link to the notice.

Updates notices from NGS Homepage

Image: National Geodetic Survey

Image: National Geodetic Survey

The box titled “Delayed Release of the Modernized NSRS” provides a summary of the notice. The announcement stated they are performing a thorough review of all tasks and will provide regular updates on their progress. What this means is that the modernized NSRS will not be completed by 2022. Even if it’s delayed a couple of years, it’s never too early to obtain an understanding of the new, modernized NSRS, and start preparing for the transition to the new NSRS.

Delayed Release of the Modernized NSRS

(https://www.ngs.noaa.gov/datums/newdatums/delayed-release.shtml)

NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS) is announcing a delay in the release of the modernized National Spatial Reference System (NSRS).

In 2007, NGS began planning for the modernized NSRS, acquiring its first airborne gravimeter, creating and initiating the Gravity for the Redefinition of the American Vertical Datum (GRAV-D) project and by 2008 had codified its modernization plans into a Ten Year Plan. At that time, the target completion date was 2018. By 2013, that date seemed unlikely, due to both the broadening of the GRAV-D coverage area and the experience of five years of operational planning and execution.

In 2013, NGS revised its 2008 Plan, and targeted 2022 as the date of the release of the modernized NSRS. This date was reinforced with a 2018 Strategic Plan revision. By 2017, confidence in hitting the 2022 target was high enough to reach final agreement with Canada and Mexico on a naming convention for certain components, to include “2022” in their names.

Since 2017, operational, workforce, and other issues have arisen and compounded, causing NGS to recently re-evaluate whether a successful roll-out by 2022 is possible. The most significant impacts have been in workforce hiring and retention, and in meeting GRAV-D data collection milestones, which underpin the NSRS modernization efforts.

NGS is currently conducting a comprehensive analysis of ongoing projects, programs and resources required to complete NSRS modernization and will continue to provide regular updates on our progress. To get the latest news on NSRS modernization and track our progress, subscribe to NGS News or visit our “New Datums” web pages.

The second important announcement by NGS was that two Federal Register Notices related to the modernized NSRS were published on July 24. See the box titled “NGS News.”

Image: National Geodetic Survey

Image: National Geodetic Survey

The first Federal notice was titled “Upcoming Changes to the National Spatial Reference System.” See the box titled “Federal Register Notice titled Upcoming Changes to the National Spatial Reference System” for the summary. This announcement provides a statement about the new, modernized NSRS and that it’s going to be published between 2022 and 2025. The information about the modernized NSRS shouldn’t be new to anyone that’s been reading my newsletters, but the Federal Notice makes it official and NGS provides dates of when the modernization will be rolled out.

Federal Register Notice titled “Upcoming Changes to the National Spatial Reference System”

(https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-07-24/pdf/2020-16068.pdf)

Image: Federal Register

Image: Federal Register

The second Federal Notice was titled “Consideration of Potential Age Limiting Observations To Be Used To Compute 2020.00 Reference Epoch Coordinates in the National Spatial Reference System.” This is a very important notice that users of NGS published coordinates should read and understand. NGS is considering imposing data age limits that will be part of the new, modernized NSRS. See the box titled “Imposing Age Limits of Data in 2022” for a summary of the Federal Register Notice announcement.

Imposing Age Limits of Data in 2022

(https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-16084)

Image: Federal Register

Image: Federal Register

My last column highlighted that in the modernized NSRS the only way to get “into the datum” will be through a GNSS survey. It noted that leveling projects generate relative height differences not absolute heights. It emphasized that in the new modernized, time-dependent NSRS, the absolute height will be provided by up-to-date GNSS data; and the relative height differences between leveling marks will be provided by the leveling data. Many of my previous newsletters have explained different aspects of the new NSRS and how it may affect the surveying and mapping community products and services. As the Federal Register Notice implied, at this moment, NGS expects large uncertainties in the vertical component of the Intra-Frame Velocity Model (IFVM) which will translate into the GNSS-derived height Limiting the age of data will help to reduce the amount of uncertainty in the vertical component based on older data. Saying that, this could have an impact on users that rely on coordinates established using data acquired prior to 2010. NGS is requesting that users take new GNSS observations on all stations of interest that haven’t been occupied since the year 2010. The supplementary information in the Federal Register notice contains some very important statements. I have highlighted several statements in the box titled “Supplementary Information from Imposing Age Limits of Data in 2022.”

NGS hasn’t decided on the date of the age limit but the notice states that “For instance, it is unlikely that such an age-limit will be fewer than 10 years.” This is why NGS recommends the following “that users take new GNSS observations on geodetic control marks of interest that have not been surveyed since January 1, 2010, and asks the users to submit the observations to NGS before December 31, 2021.” Another important item in the supplemental information section is that NGS is enhancing the OPUS-Projects tool to include real-time kinematic and real-time network (RTK/RTN) observations. This should help to facilitate users submitting data on marks of interest so that they will have 2020.0 Reference Epoch Coordinates (REC).

Supplementary Information from Imposing Age Limits of Data in 2022

(https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-16084)

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
In 2017, the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) announced its plans to estimate RECs on a five-year cycle in NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 67, 2019, starting with the first reference epoch at 2020.00, as part of the modernization of the NSRS. In the Technical Report, the exact observations to be used for this estimation were listed as “To Be Determined.” NGS is considering imposing age limits upon the observations that will be used, particularly because of expected uncertainties in the vertical component of the IFVM. These age limits cannot be determined until additional well-structured, data-driven experiments are conducted. Such experiments are expected to occur during the 2020 reference epoch adjustment projects (geometric, orthometric, and gravimetric), which are scheduled for calendar year 2022.

However, since the cut-off for new observations to enter those adjustment projects is December 31, 2021, any decision to age-limit input observations will come too late for submissions to impact the 2020 RECs. While the cut-off for age-limited observations is unknown, certain assumptions are safe to make. For instance, it is unlikely that such an age-limit will be fewer than 10 years. Older observations may be used in the estimation of 2020 RECs, but this cannot be guaranteed. As such, NGS requests that users take new GNSS observations on geodetic control marks of interest that have not been surveyed since January 1, 2010, and asks the users to submit the observations to NGS before December 31, 2021. Users may either (a) submit existing unsubmitted observations through the OPUS-Share tool or (b) conduct new GNSS observations and submit the data to NGS via the OPUS-Share tool.

In order to increase the submission of GNSS observations on marks, NGS is prioritizing the finalization of an expanded OPUS-Projects tool, which will allow real-time kinematic and real time network (RTK/RTN) observations to be submitted, rather than the standard four-hour observations required in OPUS-Share. Initial roll-out of this new tool is expected to occur during calendar year 2020.

This action is designed to increase both the number and the coordinate accuracy of geodetic control points, which in the modernized NSRS will have an estimated 2020.00 REC. Historically, NGS has combined data across multiple decades to estimate geodetic coordinates, yet such efforts have not fully accounted for the lack of information about vertical motion of geodetic control points throughout the years. Since height information is critical to the understanding of floods, failure to compute heights accurately can have negative impacts on property and lives. NGS views periodic re-surveys of geodetic control points, rather than the estimation of coordinates from observations that are years (or even decades) old, as the most effective way to maintain accurate and up-to-date knowledge of geodetic coordinates, including heights. As such, this announcement provides users of the NSRS with advance notice that geodetic control points of interest to them should be re-surveyed for the most accurate representation of geodetic coordinates, including heights.

NGS has scheduled a webinar for August 27, 2020, to discuss the delayed release of the modernized NSRS. See the box titled “Webinar on Delayed Release of the Modernized NSRS” for the announcement and web link to register for the webinar. I would encourage all users of the NSRS to register for this webinar.

Webinar on Delayed Release of the Modernized NSRS

(https://geodesy.noaa.gov/web/science_edu/webinar_series/delayed-release-nsrs.shtml?utm_medium=email&utm_source=GovDelivery)

Image: National Geodetic Survey

Image: National Geodetic Survey

Many users are probably wondering if the delay in the new, modernized NSRS will change the dates of other deadlines. The FAQs webpage addresses some of these questions. I have highlighted a few FAQs in the box titled “Questions from NGS FAQ Website.”

Questions from NGS FAQ Website

(https://www.ngs.noaa.gov/datums/newdatums/FAQNewDatums.shtml)

How will the delay affect the GPS on Benchmarks Phase II deadlines?

The deadline for submittal of GPSonBM data for the 2022 Transformation tool will remain December 31, 2021

If SPCS2022 zone designs are completed before other parts of NSRS modernization, will SPCS2022 be released sooner?

No. SPCS2022 is explicitly defined with respect the four 2022 terrestrial reference frames (not NAD 83), and SPCS2022 will be released along with the roll-out of those frames. If the frames are rolled out prior to other parts of the NSRS modernization, the frames will be accompanied by SPCS2022 (see the previous FAQ about phased roll-outs).
However, complete definitions of all SPCS2022 zones will be made available as soon as they are finalized. NGS expects that to occur by the end of 2021. Providing zone definitions early will give software vendors, database administrators, and others ample time to adopt and test them in their systems. Doing so will ensure SPCS2022 is available for immediate use upon roll-out of the 2022 terrestrial reference frames.

My projected height change seems to return me to NGVD 29 heights. Is this a coincidence?
This is coincidental. It so happens that, in some areas of the country the actual orthometric height in a region happens to be numerically closer to NGVD 29 than NAVD 88. NGVD 29 itself has biases and tilts which make it as inappropriate of an estimate of true orthometric heights as NAVD 88

[NOTE: I have heard this question from many of my readers so I provided an approximate estimate of the differences between NAPGD2022 orthometric heights and NGVD 29 height values in my June 2017 Survey Scene column. See figure below labeled “Figure 2 from June 2017 Survey Scene Newsletter.”]

Image: National Geodetic Survey

Image: National Geodetic Survey

Figure 2 from June 2017 Survey Scene Newsletter

Future newsletters will address updates on the modernized NSRS as they become available to the user community.

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